David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 3, Scene 1

— 3.1 —

On a plain in Syria, Ventidius stood. He had triumphed in carrying out the orders that Mark Antony had given him and had won the battle against the Parthians. He had killed Pacorus, an important enemy, and his soldiers were carrying the dead body. Many soldiers were present as Ventidius spoke with Silius, an officer who served him.

Ventidius said, “Now, darting Parthia, you are struck; and now Fortune has been pleased to make me the revenger of Marcus Crassus’ death. Bear the King’s son’s body before our army. King Orodes, Pacorus, who is your son, pays with his death for the death of Marcus Crassus.”

The Parthians’ cavalry was feared. The Parthian warriors would throw spears at the enemy, and then ride away, seemingly in retreat, but they were able to shoot arrows at the enemy as they rode away. The Parthians could dart on their horses, and their spears and arrows were called darts.

The Romans had borne a grudge against the Parthians because the Parthians had succeeded in defeating and killing Marcus Crassus, one of the members of the First Triumvirate; the other members were Pompey the Great and Julius Caesar. Ventidius had avenged that death by killing in battle Pacorus, the son of Orodes, the King of the Parthians.

Silius, an officer who served Ventidius, said to him, “Noble Ventidius, while your sword is still warm with Parthian blood, pursue the fugitive Parthians; spur your horses through Media, Mesopotamia, and the shelters where the routed Parthians fly. That way, your grand captain Antony shall set you on triumphant chariots and put garlands on your head.”

“Oh, Silius, Silius,” Ventidius replied, “I have done enough; a person of a lower rank, note well, may do too great an act: Such a person can be too successful. Learn this, Silius: It is better to leave something undone, than by our deed acquire too much fame when the man we serve is away. Both Octavius Caesar and Mark Antony have always won more in their officers than in their own person: Their officers earn most of the victories of the men they serve. Sossius, who was one of my rank who served in Syria, and who was Mark Antony’s lieutenant, because he quickly accumulated renown, which he achieved by the minute, lost Antony’s favor. Who does in the wars more than his captain can becomes his captain’s captain, and ambition, the soldier’s virtue, chooses to lose rather than gain that which darkens him. It is better to lose a battle than to gain a victory that will harm one’s career. I could do more to do Antony good, but my success would offend him, and because my success would offend him, I would get no benefit from my success.”

Ventidius was afraid that if he accomplished more than Mark Antony in war, then Mark Antony would hurt Ventidius’ military career. Mark Antony would not want Ventidius to become Mark Antony’s captain.

Silius said, “You have, Ventidius, that quality of discretion without which a soldier, and his sword, can scarcely be distinguished. What will you write to Antony?”

“I’ll humbly tell him what we have accomplished in his name, that magical word of war. I will tell him how, with his banners and his well-paid soldiers, we have jaded out of the battlefield the never-before-beaten cavalry of Parthia.”

Ventidius was punning with the word “jade.” A jade was a broken-down horse, and “to jade” meant “to exhaust.”

“Where is Mark Antony now?”

“He intends to go to Athens, Greece, where, with what haste the weight — the supply train — we must convey with us will permit, we shall appear before him. Let’s go! Pass the word to the soldiers!”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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